Anything at all…

Today was one of those days that seemed to zip along at a respectable place. I was getting a few things done, knocking items off my ever expanding list of stuff to do, and just feel that so focused and productive that surely the end of the day is in reach… until I looked up to discover it was only ninety minutes since I came back from lunch.

Is there a name for that kind of disconnect between the perceived movement of time and its actual movement? If there’s not, there should be, because it’s a damned real thing. And that’s unfortunate in that it tends to instantly deflate any accumulated sense of accomplishment or good will that may have accrued. Look, I’m a believer that doing hard work is its own reward, but when it doesn’t also get you closer to that ultimate objective of getting out the door at the end of the day, well, it just leave a bad taste.

I no longer consider these situations an aberration or even a bad day. Instead they’ve become just the defining characteristic of the normal day – mostly like any other. That should probably make me sad, or angry, or embarrassed. A decade ago it would have. Lately it doesn’t make me feel anything at all.

One or the other…

In part 658 of the ongoing saga of network access and availability from my desk, I present to you the following question: Which capability to you need more on a day to day tin-can-phone.jpgbasis, reliable access email or consistent access to whatever websites the gods on Olympus have decided not to block today?
It’s not a trick question in any way. Having one or the other is simply a fact of life at least once a week. Of course we’re never asked to pick which one we’d like to do without for between 15 minutes and 8 hours, but the one thing you can rely on is that whichever one collapses, it will be the one you actually needed in order to get something done. On extra special bonus days they both fail simultaneously and for at least 1.5 working days.

While it’s true that this big green machine ran for a very long time before the advent of desktop computing, it’s also true that almost no one now working in it remembers those days. And even for those few who do remember acetate view graphs and carbon paper, there simply aren’t the processes, procedures, materials, or equipment to throw the whole operation into the Way Back Machine for a few hours while the network monkeys figure out what plug got kicked out.

I know it sounds like I rant about the tech side of the job way too often, but when they keep setting me up, it would be irresponsible of me not to keep knocking them down.

Lost productivity…

The good news is that a scathing, but entirely accurate comment card submitted to the Enterprise Help Desk gets a bit of attention. That’s basically where the good news stops – unless you count my diagnosis of imminent hard drive failure being proven correct as good news. I feel like that one could go in either column.

The bad news, because of course there’s bad news, is that as of the this afternoon, the local help desk has been tinkering with computer for 10 hours. When I left today there was no sign or signal that I’ll be getting it back any time soon. That basically means I spent the day staring at the ceiling, doing some long delayed shredding, and throwing away post it notes I no longer need. It doesn’t exactly fall into the productive work category.

By my rough math if they hang on to the damned infernal machine until at least noon tomorrow the cost just in lost productive time would be sufficient to purchase a new replacement computer. That of course isn’t how we do things. Uncle, as is his way, has a completely nonsensical way to measure costs and benefits.

I forecast that getting my computer back tomorrow is probably wildly optimistic. Wednesday is slightly more likely, but far from guaranteed. It’s infuriating that this is the standard way of running the business. It’s disheartening in the extreme. I know I do good work… when the damned policies, procedures, and relentless pursuit of mediocrity don’t try to trip me up at every available opportunity. I’m sure I’ve had days where I’ve been more dispirited about the state of my chosen profession, but they’ve been few and far between.

A vestigial remnant, or Eight hours in the aggregate…

Like any good bureaucrat I have a system when it comes to accumulating and pushing along information. Every morning the first hour or so of my day is dedicated to sending out various data calls, requests for information, and making sundry other attempts to gather the information I’m going to need for the day. The rest of the day (aside from whatever unfortunate percentage is going to inevitably wasted in meetings), I then spend amalgamating the information I received into a semi-coherent narrative or providing information to others.

I sent out a lot of requests for information on Monday, knowing that a few of them were somewhat involved – and also knowing that I was going to be off Tuesday so I wasn’t in a real rush to get anything back. I assumed, and here you can see where the problem starts, that two days would be a sufficient amount of time to respond to a few straightforward questions. My assumption, as those prove to be so often, was wrong. That, of course, is why two days later my inbox is bereft of information I need in order to start closing the loop on a couple major pieces of work that currently reside on the corner of my desk.

I won’t say that today was a wasted day, but it could have been a hell of a lot more productive if people bothered to respond to email and voice messages in something approximating a timely manner. I’m sure we’re all very busy working on very important projects, but yeah, that only goes so far towards salving the painful realization that I could have left for the day by about lunch time and gotten just as much done… which all lead back to my long-festering belief that the 8-hour work day is a vestigial remnant of when we all worked in factories and production was measured by the piece. When production is measured in something less tangible – in ideas, correspondence, and concepts – it seems that the days should be “as long as they need to be” with some shorter and some longer but most likely approaching an average of 8 hours in the aggregate.

I suppose this is just one of the many reasons no one ever asks me to expound on my philosophy of organizational management.

When four equals eight…

I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the extra four hours off this morning. I never turn my nose up at free time off. That being said, four hours is just an awkward amount of time. Given the passible but not clear state of the local roads, my commute in is going to take an hour. Given that the average driver is stupid and there will undoubtedly be more than one driver on their way home this afternoon that puts it into a snow bank, my drive home will likely be over an hour. At a commute to work ratio of less than 1:2, if you’ll excuse the phrase, it just feels like something of a waste of time – as if we’re opening the doors today just so someone can say “yes, we’re open,” without having much concern for whether or not anything actually happens inside those doors.

Liberal leave – time off for which pre-approval isn’t required – is an option. Due to the peculiarities of Uncle Sam’s timekeeping regulations, though, under these circumstances one can’t combine the 4-hour delay with an additional four hours of liberal leave. If you’re going to stay home, those four hours in the afternoon are going to cost you a full eight hours of vacation time. That was a hard lesson learned.

So now the roads could be running with lava and there could be a troll under every bridge between here and there, but damned if I’m going to spend eight to get four. The math just doesn’t work, so I’ll go in, eat lunch, check some email, bitch about the snow, and then schlep home. Not exactly a recipe for productivity, but I’m sure it counts on someone’s report card as a full day’s work.

Flash to bang…

The time it takes to go from “flash to bang,” is an allusion to the time between a round impacting on target and when an observer hears the sound of that impact. Essentially it’s a low tech method of determining the amount of distance between you and whatever caused the bang. There are vagaries such as terrain and weather that intervene, but in principle sound travels at about 350 meters per second, therefore if flash to bang is 2 seconds, you’re 700 meters away – and that probably makes you way closer than you want to be to whatever is being pummeled.

In common usage down on the cube farm, flash to bang is used to mean the time between when you make a decision to the time that decision reaches fruition. The flash to bang on wanting a cup of coffee to getting that cup of coffee is generally very short. For other seemingly mundane tasks which seem like they should be accomplished quickly, such as publishing things to a website or getting a memo signed, the flash to bang could be months.

There’s no good reason for it, but as a professional lifetime spend tending to such things has taught me, that’s just the way it is. The lesson here, perhaps it’s the Zen of the Bureaucracy, is to try not to take it personally, shun emotionally entangling yourself with however long “the system” takes to do something. As a cog ex machina you don’t have any actual control over those things. Like terrain or weather you can influence them a bit around the margins, but getting from flash to bang is just going to take however long it takes.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Being filler. So a funny thing about events is that when you plan one that people are interested in, they tend to show up. When you plan an all day snoozefest, they tend to avoid it if they can. The easy solution to this problem is just to declare the snoozefest a designated place of duty for the day and *poof* you have an instant packed house. The problem of course, is even though you can mandate that people be somewhere in body, you certainly can’t force them to be present in mind or spirit. So instead of working my own projects – and tending to my own nearly sold out event – I get to be filler. Because a 2/3 empty auditorium looks bad… and not looking bad is far more important than actually doing good.

2. I’ve spent the week basically regurgitating the same seven or eight points for people who either didn’t bother to read the source material or were incapable of understanding it. Since many of these people have fancy titles like CEO, Vice President of Whatever, Owner, and Doctor, I have to wonder who exactly is out there keeping the lights on in the business community. I’m sure they’re all very busy, very important people, but a bit of basic reading and comprehension really doesn’t feel like too much to expect… and yet it is.

3. A monopoly on good ideas. Just because someone has a star on their uniform (you know, like the Texaco man), we really owe it to ourselves not to fall into the trap of assuming that he or she is the font of truth and all good ideas. No one, not even the high and the mighty have a monopoly on good ideas. Telling truth to power is hard work. It demands personal courage, but if no one else in the room is brave enough to correct the man in the big chair when he insists the grass is purple and the sky is green, we’re not doing anyone, including ourselves, any favors.